What are RFIDS?
Several years ago I worked at a Wal-Mart here in Toronto and when my shift was over it was about a 50/50 chance that I would trigger the store alarm as I was exiting. I already knew what it was: in my old leather work boots there was a metal strip that had been improperly deactivated.
The night-shift manager always did his required 'exit cursory inspection' of our person for store merchandise that might be leaving with us. A receipt would be shown for any purchased merchandise of course, but if the alarm sounded we had to come backinside for a second, more detailed (visual-only) inspection.
My off-duty clothes included those well-worn pair of old leather steel-toed hiking boots that I had purchased from another Wal-Mart in New York several years prior. This was the cause of the sensor alarm. It got to be a running gag really and the night manager came to trust that it was in error and he would just wave me on through. I was trusted.
I ended up having the Customer Service Personnel there scan my boots one at a time and 'deactivating' the offending boot. No more alarm. It was curious that this boot still tripped the alarm as it should have been properly deactivated at the point of sale back in New York five years prior back when I bought them. They must not have completely 'killed' the RFID device or it came back to life somehow.
When it came time to retire these old boots, I cut them apart with a knife in search of the offending RFID. I found a flattish, slightly bulky metallic 'chip' solidly embedded in the heel of the shoe. That is all it was, a small hunk of layered metal and some other things I could not guess at. Antennae, maybe? Some kind of battery possibly? Pain in the butt really. Yet this small strip of metal is a powerful tool for retailers and security as specific. RFIDs have the ability to more easily track merchandise, inventory, livestock sales, and notably to monitor retail shrinkage (product loss, a.k.a. shoplifting, etc.) and customer buying trends.
What are Customer Buying Trends?
It is believed that an active RFID is able to know the presence of other RFIDs in close proximity (within several meters of each other, out of visual sight) even after having entered your home. Potentially able to passively read, swap and store this information regarding the presence and quantity of other products that also contain an RFID.
This can be a bit unsettling to realize that an RFID in your shoes, pants, belt or dress shirt might be able to read the presence of other RFIDs from products in your bathroom, medicine cabinet, kitchen, and around the home and report this home inventory back at a later date. The purpose being, knowing what I as a customer am buying. Knowing my product choices helps them better follow consumer trends and this positively affects their bottom line.
Such items as disposable razor blades have an RFID in the plastic handle, the RFID in the can of shaving cream and other HBA (Health and Beauty Aids) products, your other clothes, brand-name kitchen utensils, etc. can be inventoried. If the clothing your are wearing carries an 'active RFID' that has stored home data, upon re-entering any store at a later date, that aggregate data can be downloaded to their central database.
It does not specifically identify YOU, but it can build up a profile of what combinations of products you (the general consumer) are using and the next time you walk into their store, the RFID(s) concealed in your clothing can 'download' this data to them.
This RFID information tells Marketing and Distribution about the customer's preferred products, brand and quantities used in the home. How is this useful? For example: If the customer tends to buy the 6-pack of a particular brand of disposable razor blades over the same brand name in the 12-or-15 pack, the store can either stock more of the customer's favorite choices OR it can do this and more heavily promote the other product that does not meet the consumer's current needs. This gives stores such as Wal-Mart a distinct advantage over its competitors not using RFID technology in that it can not only know what you want to buy, it can tailor items to make you want them. Some call it unfair advantage. Others call it spying on the consumer.
Wal-Mart has been including embedded RFIDs in most of the products they sell and have been doing so since 2005. Other stores and retailers are following suit. It is entirely possible that the RFIDs you carry on your person right now can and do record which retailers you frequent. Starbuck's Coffee, Indigo Books, etc., and passes this information along to interested third parties. The analogy to cookies on your computer is a very close approximation of how and why the data collected from RFIDs are used.
RFID in the Right Eye of U.S. Twenty Dollar Bill
(image source) (five U.S. twenty dollar bills folded, laid side-by-side)
President Jackson is reputed to have favored abolishing paper money saying that the only money worth having you can feel between your teeth.
Some retailers like Dairy queen and 7-Eleven stores have adhesive RFID tabs that the customer affixes to their cellular phone to receive loyalty rewards such as discounts and coupons. This is done of course, knowingly by the customer but what of the unknowing consumer carrying an active RFID embedded in the collar of their dress shirt, heel of their shoe, inside the stitching of their belt or other clothes? Every time you enter aclothier or other store, information about you and your product usage patterns could be downloaded for someone's use. Does this not make you a little worried?
But here is a real shocker; did you know that the U.S. twenty dollar bill also carries an RFID? In the right eye of Andrew Jackson there is embedded a small RFID chip which, if you microwave the bill for three seconds in your microwave oven will explode with a very small 'pop.' This will often set the bill on fire so my advice is for you own personal safety to not attempt to repeat this experiment. You do not want to set your microwave oven (and home) on fire and you at the very least may destroy your twenty dollar bill in this destructive experiment.
I was reading from the web site Prison Planet explains this business of the U.S. twenty dollar bill RFIDs and that if you carry a large enough amount of them (the site states an amount in twenty dollar bills) it can set-off an RFID detection alarm. Apparently, the combined mass of RFIDs being carried on person is sufficient to trigger the alarm. The site goes on to state that wrapping the bills in ordinary tin foil (aluminum foil) shields the money and the alarm is no longer triggered as per the experiment they conducted.
The intention of embedded RFIDs in paper currency is no doubt to monitor how it is used overseas as part of the larger global anti-terrorism effort but the very fact that the money in my wallet is tractable at all is pretty unsettling news.
Image via Wikipedia
I can think of righteous uses for this tracking ability right off the top of my head. For example; It is not permissible to bring more than two thousand U.S. dollars in undeclared cash into Canada from the United States at one time. You must disclose and declare the sum at the border and presumably provide a prominence or very reasonable explanation of its origin, intended use, and so forth. A suitcase filled with this amount of money would very likely trigger any RFID-detection alarms at the border which uses passive scanners that visitors must drive through.
I can think of a situation where this RFID data in U.S. currency can be detrimental. Imagine if you will, a foreign bistro or bar that has infrequent but regular American visitors. Terrorists could surveil the establishment with RFID scanning technology at some distance until such a time that a larger than usual number of U.S. currency RFIDs are detected (possibly indicating the presence of many Americans in the establishment) and choose that moment to launch an attack on the establishment. -Hit as many American human targets as possible with one attack. You're not worried? No, -but if the person that just entered the restaurant is carrying a suitcase of one-hundred-thousand dollars U.S. in twenty dollar bills to close some deal (legal or illegal) is scanned & detected, -the restaurant becomes a hot target. -Do you still feel safe sitting there sipping your latte?
Closer to Home
In the news not too long ago someone was stopped from re-entering Canada from the United States because he was transporting a very large sum of concealed currency, money which he did not declare to Customs. He called it his life's savings which is a rather weak alibi and he stands a pretty good chance of losing the whole sum now because of his deceit. He claimed that he did not wish to be assessed the tax that would be levied on this sum of money.
There is not a set limit on the amount of cash you can bring across the U.S./Canadian border people; you just have to DECLARE the amount if it is more than ten thousand dollars. Show proof of your ownership (a bank draft, winning lottery statement, -whatever) and you're fine. It is the SNEAKING it across the the border in either direction that gets you fined, and fined heavily! People whom sneak large sums of money across borders with no reasonable/verifiable explanation for it tend to be the ones buying drugs, bombs and machine guns.
They don't mess around when it comes to anti-terrorism, money laundering, and failing to claim larger sums of cash being imported across international borders. Even if this person and his reasons are legit, he broke the law and stands to lose most or all his entire monetary nest egg.
Money. Stated to be used for all debts public and private is not really so private anymore.